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Joe's Neighborhood

A bird’s eye view of wrestling

2/25/2015

You couldn’t make it? Too bad. It was Iowana at its best. From across the state, young men and women came to compete at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament — to see who was the strongest, the quickest and the most clever. They did moves like the half nelson, the single leg takedown, the double leg takedown and the ankle pick. Of course, these might also be the specials they were offering at the concession stands. Got me.

I was mildly disappointed to find out there would be no one wrestling in a costume calling himself “The Undertaker.” But I went this year because that’s what retired guys do. Here’s what I saw, and here are the new words I learned.

Water bugs. At 106 pounds, these are water bugs. All legs and arms and quick movements skimming the surface of the mat. When they lock together, it is an entanglement of filaments — a leg twisted around an arm, twisted around a waist, with a head over there and a foot over here. A bundle of limbs. The wrestlers skittle on and skittle off. A victor is found, but I’m not sure if body parts haven’t been exchanged. A whole new water bug leaves the mat.joes2

Bull elk. Large. Powerful. Shy, but territorial. Two-hundred-eighty-five pounds of a boy not yet a man. There is nothing mean. Nothing brutish. Nothing evil in these mammoth boys. Gentleness is the name of the game. But out they come to lock horns. Knotted together at the arms and shoulders. Immovable. Neither one bends to sweep the legs. Neither one feints to the right or to the left. How dare they? Their mass unbalanced will quickly tumble them to the ground. And that is the end. They struggle with this knowledge. Locked together. Knowing that today it is you on the ground, tomorrow it is me.

Roosters. Prancing around the gym at 182 pounds, chests thrust out, arms sculpted with muscles, chins chiseled. They are 17 years old going on 27. They needed to shave twice today just to keep up appearances. And here they are. Ready to fight. Watch them warm up off the mat. Glaring and thumping and dropping to one knee to shoot inside the imaginary opponent. The fans whoop it up on the sidelines. Happy. Excited. Watching the wrestler off-stage. Forget the actual match. This is the real arena for the 182 pounders. Strutting their stuff in the chicken yard. And the interesting twist? It doesn’t really matter if they lose a feather or two. Their crow will still be heard in the morning.joes1

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Prairie dogs. The coaches all line the corners of the mat. Sitting two abreast. Placidly at the start. Then bent at the waist. Then hands cupped around their mouths to shout. Then conferring intently with each other. Then — wait for it — they spring out of their holes. Jumping and shouting and gesturing. Whew. Back to their hole they go. Sitting placidly once again. Wiping their furry brows with a small hand towel.

Yellow Labs. Their butts high in the air. Chest down on the ground. Eyes forward watching the action. Scooting to the left. Then scooting to the right. Dancing and dancing around all the fun. Pulling in close to slap a hand against the mat. Darting back out to circle and circle and circle. Barking at one wrestler. Then barking at another. It doesn’t stop until everyone is herded off the mat. Wagging their tails, the referees are just happy to be there.

There you go. Now you know everything I know about Iowa high school wrestling. I can’t wait for high school basketball. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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